Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A brace of launches for Curious Kentish Town at Owl Bookshop

Announcing another launch event for Curious Kentish Town on Monday 24th November at 6.30pm
The launch of Curious Kentish Town on Monday 17th November 2014 at 6.30pm is now fully booked. Please email if you would like to attend the 24th November event.
Entry is free but is by ticket only.
Owl Bookshop
209 Kentish Town Rd
London NW5 2JU
Tel 020 7485 7793
Curious Kentish Town
Martin Plaut & Andrew Whitehead
Book Launch
Monday 24th November

Please join us to celebrate the publication of a new book about Kentish Town

Where did Oswald Mosley first lead his fascists after the Battle of Cable Street?
Which Kentish Town rent strike inspired a Peggy Seeger song? Where does the long lost Fleet river break cover? Or followed, quite literally, in the tracks of the piano industry?

Do you know about the horse tunnels at Camden Lock...the ghost sign advertising maids’ caps and aprons in Dartmouth Park... the African revolutionary who made his home near Tufnell Park?

Curious Kentish Town explores more than thirty locations across this part of north London and brings to life the remarkable stories attached to them, with the help of a wealth of photographs and illustrations. An artist-designed map will help you follow in the authors’ footsteps.

Martin and Andrew, both journalists who have lived in the area for decades and love it, will discuss the book, followed by questions and answers.

The event on the 17th November is fully booked and will be very busy with limited seating. If your email request has been acknowledged and you would prefer to attend the second event on the 24th please let us know and we will move your reservation.  


Sunday, 2 November 2014

New from Five Leaves - Curious Kentish Town

We are pleased to announce Five Leaves' latest title, Curious Kentish Town by Martin Plaut and Andrew Whitehead. Andrew previously edited our London Fictions book, and runs the website of the same name. There is also a website for Curious Kentish Town, which will be updated as more curiousities emerge. The book will tell you which Kentish Town rent strike inspired a Peggy Seeger song, what happened to the Fleet river and all you need to know about the horse tunnels at Camden Lock. Lots of curious stories, and lots of photographs.
The Curious website is at, which includes a big feature on the book in this week's Camden New Journal.
Kentish Town area residents can buy the book at The Owl and other nearby bookshops as well as the usual outlets like Housmans and, post free, from Five Leaves on 0115 8373097.
Curious Kentish Town
9781910170069, 92 pages, £7.95.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Since we're adding some reviews... Things of Substance by Liz Cashdan in Orbis


Things of Substance: New and Selected Poems by Liz Cashdan, 156pp, £8.99, Five Leaves Publications, PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG 9AW

At the heart of this collection is a deep need to teach the next generation about the past. Reading this volume is to be invited into a long-lived life, with its own texture and significance. Objects carry the sense of an era as well as a family history, as in ‘Bakelite Telephone’, 'square and squat with joined / ear and mouthpiece, balanced nicely / on the crossbar of the telephone frog', bringing life-changing news: ‘From Barts it relayed my father’s death, / sealed the selling of the family house.’
   The poet swings through her own past, from object to object, and brings back to the reader a world where a child could have her tonsils removed on the table where she does her homework. There are Wordsworthian moments, as in ‘Lost Time,’ we are recollecting in tranquillity, drawing back from 'years ago' the sound and feel of trekking in the Lake District, where the one-inch map 'is all / I've had to keep the singing beck in tune, to keep / the dizziness of the mountain spinning in my head'. A beautiful image, 'look where the beck slips its stony collars' brings this world with a rush to the mind's eye.
   The new work bring us up to date with the author’s present life, and the predominantly ‘plain style’ conveys the energy with which she relishes the good times and the stoicism of her acceptance of life's inevitable losses - illness, stiff joints, broken bones - she's 'not bovvered.'
   The lived life is there on every page.  There is joy in new experiences, new tastes, the first time she eats an avocado, ice-cream 'slithering' down a sore throat, physical life is embraced and everywhere her celebration of the tangible substance of the natural world.
   Adventurous and educational travel inform us of the poet’s concern for politics and the conditions people endure in diverse cultures and we see many curious things en route, such as Gagarin’s appendix in Moscow. We are invited to the ancient past in ‘The Tyre-Cairo Letters’ sequence. We identify with the fractured relationship between Sadaka and his father in 1090. The poet teases out politics, religious differences and the problems with arranged marriages in this part of the world through epistolatory poems.
   The third section is ‘A Guide to Hospitals.’ It deals with health setbacks, of the poet and others and contemplates the selfless life of Henrietta Lacks, 'She dies but her cancer cells keep / growing’, the black American woman who had her cells removed by the medical profession without her permission and who has unknowingly advanced the study of cancer.
   This collection celebrates a life well-lived: poet, teacher, mother, grandmother, Liz Cashdan reaches out to all of us to urge us not only to get on with things but, despite the obstacles we encounter, to do it with gusto.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Long Poem Magazine on 1948, by Andy Croft

Timothy Adès on Andy Croft 1948 A Novel in Verse (Five Leaves £7.99.)
A book called 1948,
made of some eighty Pushkin stanzas,
by Martin Rowson illustrate,
riots of rhyme, extravaganzas.
The cover's ruddy bloody garish
and Rowson's drawings quite nightmarish,
obsessive as the text, but still, full
of telling detail, very skilful. 
London Olympics, shocks galore:
spies and political skulduggery,       
trade unions, left-wing mags and thuggery
and Orwell's 1984.
'A, b, a, b, cc, dd,'
it rhymes; 'e, f, f, e, gg.'

Alberti, Attlee, Blandish, Blunden, 
Brecht, Bulldog Drummond, Helen Gahagan,
Greene, Harlow, Marlowe, Lorre, London,
Sartre, Frank Waxman, Ronald Reagan,
Thirkell, not Churchill, Harry Truman,
all rhymed! - it's almost superhuman.
I'm bound to ask: what rhymes with Pushkin?
Stravinsky's violinist Dushkin.
(No triple rhymes, no terza rima:
I could have added Ariane
Mnouchkine, but that must be foregone:
no flagpole on this Iwo Jima.)
Pro-Russian Proms 'have picked The Nose
to bring the season to a close.'
So here's my chance to rhyme Onegin,
since these are called 'Onegin sonnets',
with Fagin, or Menachem Begin - 
a donnish jest - quiet flows the Donets! -
He won't be pleased, so please don't tell 'im:
he's miles less mild than Bassa Selim, 
the liberal enlightened Turk
in Mozart's oriental work.
Anyway, as I said before, well-
constructed pacey period thriller -
Winston and Spiller thwart the killer! -
all based on Eric Blair (George Orwell).
Drain down that draught! Hurl hats aloft!
Hail, handicraft of Andy Croft!

Nicholas Lezard on A Modern Don Juan, in the Guardian

I love the way we can’t get shot of Juan; 
Byron’s roaming lad appeals so much 
That even now we think that he is due an 
Update, or a rebrand, or some such. 
He charms us still: each conquest is a new one, 
But you always know that he’ll be back in touch. 
(And there’s something nice about ottava rima; 
It seems to suit a brash romantic schemer.
Lord Byron’s original poem stops abruptly in its 17th canto, after enough words to fill a fat novel, before his death in 1824. A couple of years ago, I read a modern continuation, and it worked very well: you could see how Byron’s structure, the beat of his rhymes and rhythms, obliged the modern poet to think like him, become possessed by him. Because the Byron of Don Juan is so likable, as is the Don Juan of Don Juan, this isn’t a bad thing.
In this collection we have 15 contemporary poets shoehorning their inspiration into the tight but not uncomfortable rhyme scheme. I wasn’t familiar with them all. I’ve written about Andy Croft before, when he reimagined Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in the style of Pushkin’s sonnetsGeorge Szirtes and Sinéad Morrissey are TS Eliot prize winners (2004 and 2013 respectively) and Ian Duhig has been shortlisted for the award; the others are all distinguished as either poets or teachers of poetry. Amit Majmudar is apparently “a novelist, poet, essayist and diagnostic nuclear radiologist”, so should his poetic gift desert him, he has a few fall-back positions.
So these are all trustworthy voices, and they have a lot of fun hauling Juan into the modern age (his name is not pronounced in the Spanish fashion, by the way; lines one and three of my doggerel above, an attempt not so much to walk a mile in Byron’s moccasins as to walk 40 feet, have at least the virtue of showing how to get it right). He is called Donny Johnson, or something similar, in a few of the poems here, and is more than once imagined as a DJ (geddit?). He is also rather more of a bounder than I remember Byron making him. In fact, the whole point of Byron’s Juan was to make him more hapless seducee than seducer, but never mind.
Everyone here has put in a lot of hard work, and most of it pays off, some of it handsomely. Croft’s rhymes in particular are laugh-out-loud funny (“Minerva’s Owl”/ “Simon Cowell”; and, the narrator being a prisoner, we get “lecture” to rhyme with “Norman Stanley Fletcher”). And he has a sneer at Guardian critics, which is a poem’s invariable hallmark of purity and authenticity.
So this is really a continuation, or extrapolation, of Byron’s work, which was already, in a way, modern. Byron, in the original Don Juan, was at times almost ridiculously digressive, given over to pontification and moralisation as well as to the occasional outrageous rhyme or enjambement, but his poem was also a way of poking pomposity in the eye and standing up for the oppressed, or the victims of injustice (we find Juan in contemporary austerity Greece in the updated version). And here’s the clever thing: even though the poets are using the same scheme, you get more than a glimpse of how their individual voices sound; of what goes on in their heads. This was always Byron’s great trick: to teach you something when all you think you are doing is having a good time.
A Modern Don Juan is in the shops now...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Crime Scene - the first review

I received a review copy the other day of a new book published by Five Leaves, and written by John Martin. Described as "a reader's guide",and titled Crime Scene: Britain and Ireland, it aims to discuss crime writers past and present on a geographic basis, 'where the setting of the book is crucial, giving the story context and local relevance.' I began by dipping into it rather casually, because reference books like this, even relatively compact ones, can't sensibly be read from cover to cover in a sitting, but I soon found myself absorbed in the wealth of information supplied.

I've never met John Martin, but a biographical note on the cover explains that he is a former librarian, and past judge for the CWA Dagger in the Library. One thing is for sure - he knows a great deal about the genre. Putting a book like this together is not a task for the faint-hearted, not the poorly read. He mentions a great many novels, and my impression is that he has read them, rather than relying on potted summaries by others, because there is a personal 'feel' to the commentary that I find appealing.

I should add that there is an entry about my work which is extremely positive and generous, and this blog also earns a credit, so (being only human) I'm naturally inclined to applaud the excellence of John Martin's judgment! But even if I wasn't mentioned, I'd find a book like this a must-read. It's not dissimilar in some ways from a book published back in 2002, Scene of the Crime, by Julian Earwaker and Katherine Becker. I met Julian and Katherine when they were researching that book, and found them very pleasant company. I can recommend their book too, but of course much has happened in the genre in the past twelve years, and in the absence of a new edition, John Martin has not only spotted a gap in the market, but filled it admirably.

To write a book of this kind, I think you have to be a real enthusiast for the genre. In the entries I've read, Martin's enthusiasm shines through. The emphasis, inevitably, is on relatively modern books, but there is also material that dates back much longer - discussion of Charles Felix's The Notting Hill Mystery from 1865, for example. This book is definitely my cup of tea, and I hope that John Martin's hard work is rewarded by excellent sales. I shall continue to dip into it regularly.

Martin Edwards